“The Child on the Shore”
Ursula Le Guin
Wind, wind, give me back my feather
Sea, sea, give me back my ring
Death, death, give me back my mother
So that she can hear me sing.
Song, song, go and tell my daughter
Tell her that I wear the ring
Say I fly upon the feather
Fallen from the falcon’s wing
I try to keep things. And of course, sometimes, instead, I should try to let them go.
Lately I’ve been holding on and holding on and holding on to my novel. Playing with the story can be a lot of fun: I like the people in this world I’ve found, I like what they do, what they mean to each other. But as I go through the chapters, revising them, I sometimes get my hands all bunched up. This way, I pull at things: be this way. And then, to whatever degree the world in my novel’s becoming real, it won’t just move to my yanking. I’m pulling at ideas I planted five years ago, and some of them have grown.
My friend recently told me that all stories are necessarily digressive: there’s this, and this, and this, and no piece is just itself, and we’ve never started where everything really starts. Which is to say, I might really be talking about my friend Trystan, who died when we’d both just started our twenties. And that, of course, has its sadness — aching sadness, like the child’s aching song in the first stanza of Le Guin’s poem. But the second stanza is the mother, singing back: what the child’s lost the child has really given, and the mother reaches back across the bridge the child hoped to find—across song—to say, ‘I’m flying with what you gave me.’ I miss my friend. I’m still learning to sing how I miss him. And I’m still learning to hear his song, in memories, in the lives he touched, in all of us who still live with him.
I’m trying to pull at my novel a little less. I’m trying to pull at everything a little less. I think back to other friends who are still alive, but who have moved far away from me. I want to call out, “come back.” But they went where they are because it was part of their growing. They’re living in that other place. Le Guin says walk on the shore, sing the sadness, but listen for the songs that come back. The ones you weren’t expecting. Watch for where what you thought you lost has become a feather for another’s wing. We all call out, sending ourselves into the world: listen, says Le Guin, for everyone calling back.